Juventus interested in Didier Drogba? That’s news to Antonio Conte

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This rumor’s been around since the end of the Chinese Super League season: Didier Drogba, having finished his first season with Shanghai Shenhua, is looking to come back to Europe, with Italian champions Juventus being prominently linked.

Let’s wait a second before detailing the various levels on which that’s problematic. For now, what’s important is Juventus’s lack of interest, per reports (this one from ESPN).

Here’s head coach Antonio Conte with a well-articulated scoff at the persisting rumors:

“I keep reading about Drogba, but the club never proposed him to me or vice-versa. There are economic parameters to be taken into account. Transfers must be intelligent and low-cost.”

In China, Drogba is one of the highest paid players in the world, and while it’s no guarantee he’ll demand in same compensation on a return to Europe (be that return temporary or permanent semi-temporary), he’s still going to be expensive. If there’s any team in Italy that can afford that type of player, it’s Juventus, but as Conte says, that doesn’t mean the deal makes sense.

With eight goals in 11 appearances, Drogba was effective in China, but at 34 years old and slightly removed from his last days at Chelsea, there could be some concern about his ability to play to previous levels. It’s a concern I’d dismiss under most circumstances, but if one of those circumstances entails paying Drogba has if he’s among the best attackers in Europe, that would require me being 100 percent certain he’d be an elite player for the deal to work out. And that level of certainty’s near-impossible to reach.

There’s also the little issue of Drogba being under contract with Shanghai Shenhua. It’s no guarantee he’ll be allowed to move, given the CSL’s March re-start. Regardless, his contract status will only add to the cost.

For some clubs, Drogba will still make sense, but as Conte discusses, Juventus might have other options. Though Drogba would fill the Old Lady’s last glaring need, Italy’s holders could look west instead of east, with Athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente in focus:

 “Llorente is a Spanish international and has done very well at Bilbao, so he is an appetising prospect. If we have the chance to sign a big player on a free transfer and he chooses us, then good.

“I can certainly say that, a year ago, Llorente wouldn’t have taken us into consideration, but we are back to a high level and are now very appealing to big players.”

Asked if he would be surprised to see Llorente arrive this month, Conte replied: “Yes, because he is an Athletic Bilbao player.”

Of course, in talking about Llorente coming on a free transfer, Conte’s implicitly casting this deal as a summer move, one which would happen after the Athletic target man’s contract expires after the season. The threat of pre-contract agreement might compel Athletic to sell this winter, but for the deflated price they’d get for a player at the end of a deal, it might not be worth it.

All of which brings us back to the question underlying all these rumors: What’s Juventus going to to about their forward situation? Right now, Conte’s relying on Mirko Vucinic, Sebastian Giovinco, Fabio Quagliarella, and Alessandro Matri. While there’s talent in the group, there haven’t been many goals: 18 in 52 appearances.

If there’s no Drogba or Llorente in January, then who? Perhaps the answer is “nobody,” a response that will draw the ire of Juve fans expecting the team to make a Champions League run.

FA Cup: Chelsea survive trip to Hull, advance to 5th round (video)

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With their 2-1 victory away to EFL Championship side Hull City, Chelsea joined Leicester City, Sheffield United and Norwich City as Premier League sides to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup on Saturday.

[ FA CUP ROUNDUP: West Ham bounced; Sheff Utd, Norwich advance ]

Frank Lampard‘s side got off to a flying start courtesy of Michy Batshuayi‘s deflected finish in the 6th minute, and the Blues were well on their way to a first half of total dominance.

Hull looked more prepared for a fight after halftime, but it mattered very little after Fikayo Tomori was gifted a free header two yards off the goal line. Ross Barkley‘s free kick was well placed at the back post and there was nothing that anyone could do to stop it.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Hull pulled the game back to 2-1 in the 78th minute, and they were more than a little fortunate in how they managed to do so. Kamil Grosicki smacked a free kick with plenty of power and got the deflection of all deflections to wrong-foot Willy Caballero and find the back of the net.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

FA Cup roundup: West Ham bounced; Sheff Utd, Norwich advance (video)

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s FA Cup fourth-round (early) action…

[ MORE: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay ]

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

West Ham United 0-1 West Bromwich Albion

West Ham were the lone Premier League side to be knocked out by a lower-division side on Saturday, as David Moyes‘ side failed to find the back of the net and were beaten 1-0 by EFL Championship leaders West Brom.

Conor Townsend scored the game’s only goal in the 9th minute, and though the Hammers controlled possession the rest of the way, they created very little in terms of scoring chances and finished the game with just three shots on target. West Brom finished the game with 10 men, but West Ham could do nothing with their 18-minute advantage following Semi Ajayi‘s second yellow card in the 72nd minute.

Millwall 0-2 Sheffield United

Sheffield United’s dream season continued with a comfortable 2-0 victory away to Championship side Millwall. Both goals came inside the final half-hour, but the Blades were unquestionably the better side even before breaking the deadlock.

That came in the 62nd minute, when Muhamed Besic placed a stunning curler inside the far post for 1-0. Not long before full-time, in the 84th, Oliver Norwood drove his effort hard and low and into the corner to make it 2-0.

Burnley 1-2 Norwich City

Norwich and Burnley were largely inseparable for the majority of Saturday’s clash at Turf Moor, save for a four-minute period early in the second half in which Norwich scored twice and booked their place in the fifth round.

Grant Hanley made it 1-0 in the 53rd and Josip Drmic added to the advantage in the 57th minute. Erik Pieters pulled Burnley back to within a goal in the 73rd, but that’s as close as the Clarets would get.

FA Cup fourth-round scoreboard

Southampton 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur — FULL RECAP
Newcastle United 0-0 Oxford United
Portsmouth 4-2 Barnsley
Coventry City 0-0 Birmingham City
Reading 1-1 Cardiff City

RB Leipzig beaten, Bundesliga title race thrown wide open

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BERLIN (AP) Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Bundesliga leader RB Leipzig 2-0 to throw the title race wide open on Saturday.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Frankfurt defender Almamy Toure scored a brilliant goal just after the break and Filip Kostic sealed the win in injury time to deal Leipzig its first defeat since a 2-1 loss at home to Freiburg in October.

Borussia Monchengladbach cut the gap at the top to two points with a 3-1 win at home over Mainz, thanks largely to goals in each half from French striker Alassane Plea.

Bayern Munich has the chance to cut the gap to one point with a win at home over Schalke in the late game.

[ FA CUP: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay ]

Borussia Dortmund is just four points off the top after its 5-1 win over Cologne on Friday.

Also Saturday, Union Berlin defeated Augsburg 2-0 at home, Hertha Berlin came from behind to win 2-1 at Wolfsburg, and Paderborn moved off the bottom with a 2-0 win at Freiburg.

FA Cup: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay

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Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur played to a virtual stand-still for nearly 60 minutes before Jose Mourinho’s side broke through with a moment of true quality from Son Heung-min and Giovani Lo Celso, but finished right back where they started after Saints hit back late to force a replay in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Prior to that, Lo Celso put the ball in the back of the net and briefly thought it was he who had put Spurs ahead, but the Argentine was denied his third Spurs goal on the basis that the ball hit Son on its way through traffic, and the South Korean was in an offside position.

Spurs’ best chance of the first half chance came and went just minutes later, with Lucas Moura in disbelief and Angus Gunn the hero of the moment. Dele Alli played Lucas into open space inside the penalty area and, with the goal gaping to Gunn’s left and right, Lucas looked to place his right-footed shot inside the far post. Gunn was up to the challenge, though, and pulled off a sensational left-footed save from close range.

Seconds later, Saints had a surefire scoring chance and were denied in equally spectacular fashion. Danny Ings used his chest to control a free kick into the box and looped it goal-bound over the head of Hugo Lloris, only for Japhet Tanganga to make the last-second headed clearance in front of an open net.

[ MORE: Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong ]

Saints were the first to go ever so close to a goal in the second half. Michael Obafemi crossed from the right side and found Ings inside the six-yard box, where he redirected the ball ever so slightly, but not enough, to send it inches wide of Lloris’ right-hand post.

Following a spell that was all Saints to start the second half, Spurs broke the deadlock through Son in the 58th minute. Lo Celso drove through the heart of Southampton’s midfield before playing the ball to Son near the top of the 18-yard box. He took a touch to set up the shot and fired a left-footed arrow inside the far post.

The lead lasted just shy of 30 minutes, close but not quite over the finish line. With 87 minutes on the clock and a full head of steam over the preceding quarter-hour, Southampton got their hugely deserved equalizer. Sofiane Boufal arrived near the top of the box as Ings’ cut-back ball arrived and the Moroccan international hammered it home.

The two sides will meet again for their fourth-round replay in two weeks at the Tottenham Hotspur. The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.